Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday urged Congress to pass a bill granting self-rule to the country’s Muslim minority, warning that its collapse would see separatist rebels abandon a peace process and declare war again.
The largest Muslim rebel group, Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), signed a peace deal with the government in 2014 to end nearly 50 years of conflict that has killed more than 120,000 people and displaced 2 million.
Central to resolving that is the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), which would create a new autonomous area in the Mindanao region offering more political and economic power. Duterte is a staunch supporter of the plan.
“I am urging everybody to understand, it’s about time the historical injustices committed to them corrected,” Duterte said during the launch of a bank for Filipino overseas workers. “If nothing happens to the BBL, there will be war in Mindanao.”
He said he could not control rebel groups if they take up arms again and seek an independent state in the south.
The Muslim parts of Mindanao are already fraught with security problems and a collapse of the peace process with the MILF would be one of the biggest setbacks of Duterte’s presidency.
Martial law is in place in Mindanao until the end of the year to allow the military to tackle rebel groups loyal to Islamic State, some of which held parts of southern Marawi City through five months of war with the government last year.
The MILF is bitterly opposed to Islamic extremists and has been collaborating with government troops to fight a radical faction of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State.
He said he wanted the BBL passed before Congress focuses its attention on changing the constitution to create a federal system, one of his key election platforms.